Fitness + Health

Pet Insurance for Your Dog

Fitness + Health

Pet Insurance for Your Dog

Veterinary care is expensive.  There is simply no getting around that fact.  As our pets have become more and more a part of our families, pet owners have sought the best possible care for them.  Today, veterinarians use many of the same diagnostic and treatment modalities as human hospitals, but at a fraction of the cost.  As the demand for human-level medical technology for pets increases, so too must the cost to provide that care.  The result is that many pet owners find themselves struggling to afford appropriate veterinary care.   With costs continuing to rise, pet owners are increasingly turning to pet insurance as a means to provide the highest quality veterinary care for their pets.

What is Pet Insurance?

Pet insurance is health insurance for your pet.  It is a program that functions very similarly to human health insurance.  When you sign your pet up for insurance, you’ll pay a monthly premium to your insurance company.  The cost of the premium will vary depending on the plan you choose.  Some pet insurance plans only cover accidents and emergencies, while others will also cover illnesses and preventive care.  Essentially, pet insurance acts as a pre-paid safety net for any health issues that may arise over the course of your pet’s lifetime.  When your pet requires veterinary care, your pet insurance company will cover all or part of the cost.  The more coverage your pet insurance plan provides, the more expensive your monthly premium will be.  Like a human health insurance plan, you’ll also need to navigate the often confusing world of deductibles, co-payments, and maximum payouts.

Pros of Pet Insurance

Emergencies

Emergency care is where pet insurance really shines.  There are some things for which we simply cannot adequately plan and budget; no matter how hard we try.  If your pet suffers an accident, major injury, or sudden severe illness, you want to be able to seek care immediately.  Hospitalization and intensive care at an emergency veterinary clinic will rapidly run your bill into the thousands.  With pet insurance, a substantial portion of the bill will be covered – up to 90% on some plans.

Financial Flexibility

Some pet owners like to maintain an emergency fund for their pets, depositing a certain amount of money every week or month and saving it for a “rainy day.”  While this can certainly beneficial, you are unfortunately limited by the amount you have saved.  If you’ve saved $1,000 so far and your dog now requires a $3,000 surgery, will you be able to come up with the additional $2,000 on short notice?  The benefit of pet insurance is that it can pay out more than you have invested in monthly premiums, allowing you the financial flexibility to afford expensive treatments for your pet on short notice.

Direct Payments

Several pet insurance plans now offer “practice direct” payments, in which your veterinarian can bill the pet insurance company directly.  This is very similar to the way a human doctor’s office will bill your own health insurance.  This means that you won’t have to worry about paying out of pocket for care and waiting to be reimbursed.  This is especially important at emergency hospitals, where treatment often cannot be initiated until the hospital has received a substantial deposit.  By having pet insurance with direct payment, you’ll ensure your pet’s treatment does not get delayed while you find the necessary funds.

Peace of Mind

Ultimately, the biggest benefit to pet insurance is the peace of mind it brings.  If your pet is insured, you will not have to worry about the cost of care.  You’ll be able to choose the highest quality care for your pet, rather than being limited by what you can afford.  This also streamlines the process for your veterinarian, allowing them to make medical decisions based on your pet’s needs, rather than being restricted by your budget.

Cons of Pet Insurance

Preventive Care

Unlike human health insurance, pet insurance plans typically do not cover preventive care.  This means that you will still need to pay out of pocket for your dog’s annual wellness exam, vaccinations, flea and tick preventives, etc.  Some pet insurance companies will offer wellness coverage for an additional fee.  However, this often ends up being more expensive than paying for wellness care out of pocket, so do your homework before signing up for coverage.  Many pet insurance companies also will not pay for the cost of treating preventable illnesses.  For example, if you fail to have your puppy appropriately vaccinated and he later contracts parvovirus, your insurance may not pay for the cost of treatment.  Even if you have pet insurance, it is still your responsibility to provide appropriate wellness and preventive veterinary care for your dog.

Pre-Existing Conditions

Many people remember the days when human health insurance companies were permitted to exclude people from coverage based on their pre-existing conditions.  While this is no longer legally allowed in human health, the practice continues among pet insurance companies.  This means if your dog has previously been diagnosed with a disease prior to obtaining pet insurance, the insurance company will not cover the cost of treating this disease.  For example, if your dog was diagnosed with allergies last month and you signed up for pet insurance today, the insurance company will list allergies as pre-existing condition on your dog’s file and any future veterinary care your dog needs relating to his allergies will have to be paid out of pocket.  If your dog has a major health condition, such as cancer, the pet insurance company may refuse to insure him at all.  Thus, it becomes extremely beneficial to register your dog for pet insurance from a young age while he is still healthy.

Reimbursements

Pet insurance plans that do not offer direct payments rely on reimbursements.  This means that you will have to pay for your pet’s care out of pocket, submit a claim to your pet insurance company, and wait to be reimbursed.  You will need to have the full cost of treatment available to pay your veterinarian at the time of service, which may be difficult for emergencies or expensive surgeries.

Choosing a Plan

It is best to sign your dog up for pet insurance when he is a healthy puppy.  This will ensure he does not have any pre-existing conditions on his record and will allow him to get the best coverage.  Talk to your veterinarian to find out which plans they recommend, and whether their clinic accepts direct payments from any insurance companies.  Read up on the different plans and coverage options offered by each company, and consider both the cost and your dog’s needs.  Is your dog a breed that may be predisposed to certain diseases such as orthopedic problems, respiratory disorders, or cancer?  If so, make sure you choose a plan that provides adequate coverage for these possibilities.  Read the fine print on each plan and make sure that the company provides appropriate long term coverage for chronic conditions – some will only cover the cost of treatment for the first year, and then you’ll have to pay the rest out of pocket.  Whichever plan you choose, make sure you read and understand all of the associated documents before you sign up.

Summary

Pet insurance is an increasingly popular resource to help make veterinary care more affordable.  It can help mitigate the cost of expensive accidents and emergencies, and in some cases can cover your pet’s treatment cost for chronic conditions.  Signing your dog up at a young age will allow him to receive the best possible coverage.  For more information and help choosing an insurance plan, visit https://www.petinsuranceguideus.com/ and https://www.petinsurancereview.com/

Dr. Elizabeth Racine

Dr. Elizabeth Racine

Dr. Racine is a small animal general practice veterinarian based in New England. Her professional interests include behavior, nutrition, and internal medicine.